The sounds of silence



July 2014

It is a conversation of deep silence. If silence can have a sound, it is here, in the bowls, rhapsodises Shameem Akthar, on the magic of singing bowls

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I have been collecting singing bowls since I first stumbled upon one at a Goan flea market a decade ago. I picked it up then, naively, for its black polish and its etching of om mani padme hum (the Buddhist mantra in Pali). It was an inexpensive piece. Then, I bought a more stolid and plain one at a Nepali shop in South Mumbai. The morose owner was kind enough to show me how to stroke the bowl, and create a humming sound. Then again, at the Lemon Grass restaurant in Bandra, I came across the bowls – kept more as showpieces and ethnic holders of your bill. But the waiter there showed me how to hold the bowl and stroke it to coax a deep hum.

Since then I have been fascinated with the sound that comes from the bowls. Each bowl has a different timbre, but whatever its tone, the mood is one of meditation – an elongated om that rolls on and on. Its sound depends entirely on the confidence of your hands – how you hold them, a delicate balance between gentle and strong – and how meditative and involved you can be as you strike it.

So when I decided to go to Nepal, I planned it around learning to play the bowl. I was lucky to be able to locate a centre (The Kathmandu Healing Center, Nepal), contact: Sabin Thapa, kathmanduhealing@gmail.com), which was organizing classes with the internationally well-known teacher Shree Krishna Shahi.

There are different techniques and different approaches to bowl playing. I learnt, fortunately, to play the seven bowls to harmonize the chakra. So, that is the experience I will be discussing below.

A range of singing bowls at a shop in KathmanduA range of singing bowls at a shop in Kathmandu

Deep relaxation

I was my
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